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Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 19, No.

4, 1995

Inducing Jurors to Disregard


Inadmissible Evidence:
A Legal Explanation Does Not Help*
Kerri L. Pickel

Three experiments investigated mock jurors' ability to disregard inadmissible prior conviction evidence and hearsay. In Experiments 1 and 2, college students listened to an audiotape enacting a theft
trial. The critical evidence favored the prosecution and was objected to by the defense. In three
different conditions the judge either ruled the evidence admissible, ruled it inadmissible, or ruled it
inadmissible and explained the legal basis for the ruling. In a fourth condition no critical evidence was
presented. The critical witness' credibility was also manipulated. With prior conviction evidence but
not hearsay the legal explanation "backfired." In addition, the critical witness' credibility did not
affect subjects' ability to disregard inadmissible evidence. The results of Experiment 3 suggest that the
legal explanation may have affected the use of hearsay and prior conviction evidence differently
because of subjects' dissimilar preconceptions of the fairness of using the two evidence items to assess
guilt.

O n e a r e a o f i n t e r e s t to r e s e a r c h e r s is w h e t h e r j u r i e s ( a n d i n d i v i d u a l j u r o r s ) a r e
t r u l y c o m p e t e n t to m a k e d e c i s i o n s that h a v e s i g n i f i c a n t i m p l i c a t i o n s for d e f e n d a n t s a n d for s o c i e t y in general. S t u d i e s h a v e i n v e s t i g a t e d the ability o f j u r o r s to
u n d e r s t a n d (e.g., R e i f m a n , G u s i c k , & E l l s w o r t h , 1992) a n d follow ( S m i t h , 1993)
j u d g e s ' i n s t r u c t i o n s , to c o m p r e h e n d q u a n t i t a t i v e e v i d e n c e ( K a y e & K o e h l e r ,

* I am grateful to the following individuals for their assistance with this research: for help with data
collection, Kerry McCafferty, Frank Ross, Lana Symmes, and Marsennia Wells; for their fine acting
on the audiotapes, Eric Covey, Brian Fern, Jeff Langdon, Andy Lewellen, Jennifer Luoma, Kerry
McCafferty, Marsennia Wells, and Clayton Zambori; for providing helpful comments on an earlier
version of the manuscript, Darrell Butler and three anonymous reviewers; and for serving as legal
consultant, Colleen Kochanek. Correspondence should be sent to Kerri Pickel, Department of
Psychological Science, Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306.
407
0147-7307/95/0400-0407507.50/19 1995AmericanPsychology-LawSociety/Division41 of the AmericanPsychologicalAssociation

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1991; Thompson, 1989), and to reason (Kuhn, Weinstock, & Flaton, 1994). Also
of interest is how jurors react to inadmissible evidence.
The laws of evidence state that, in order for evidence to be admissible in
court, its relevance must outweigh its potential for prejudice. The judge may
exclude evidence if he or she believes that jurors might fail to weight it properly
and instead be unduly influenced by it. Sometimes, however, evidence that should
be inadmissible inadvertently comes before the jury. In such a case, the judge will
typically instruct the jurors to disregard it, with the hope that this instruction will
counteract the prejudicial effect of the evidence. Naturally, it is of interest to
discover whether jurors can and will disregard inadmissible evidence, as the more
extreme alternative to curative instructions is for the judge to declare a mistrial.
Surprisingly, there are few studies dealing with jurors' evaluations of inadmissible evidence. Most of the existing research concerns inadmissible evidence
that was illegally obtained. In an early study by Sue, Smith, and Caldwell (1973),
mock jurors read a four-page summary of a murder case. The critical evidence was
supplied by detectives who had tape-recorded incriminating statements made by
the defendant in a telephone conversation with a suspect in an unrelated investigation. Because the detectives had received permission to wire tap only to gather
evidence in the unrelated investigation, the defense objected to the use of the tape
recording against the murder defendant. In different conditions the judge ruled
that the evidence was either admissible or inadmissible. The results showed that
when the case against the defendant was weak, subjects used inadmissible evidence; the percentage of guilty verdicts was the same regardless of whether the
critical evidence was ruled admissible or inadmissible. However, when the case
against the defendant was strong, inadmissible evidence was not used.
Carretta and Moreland (1983) used the materials of Sue et al. but modified
them so that the wire tap evidence favored the prosecution in one condition and
the defense in another. The authors also included a condition in which the critical
evidence was not presented. Analysis of predeliberation judgments indicated that
those who heard inadmissible evidence were influenced by it but did not use it as
fully as they would have if it had been ruled admissible. Postdeliberation judgments suggested that deliberation may attenuate the influence of inadmissible
evidence. For example, if one person mentioned the inadmissible evidence, another usually reminded the others of the judge's ruling.
Wire tap evidence was again used by Thompson, Fong, and Rosenhan (1981).
In two different conditions this evidence was ruled inadmissible and either corroborated or contradicted the defendant's alibi. In a third condition, the critical
evidence was not presented. The results showed that jurors' verdicts were influenced by proacquittal but not proconviction inadmissible evidence. The authors
suggested that this finding may have occurred because most people would rather
set a guilty defendant free than convict an innocent one, and therefore evidence
of innocence is harder for them to ignore than evidence of guilt. The authors also
suggested that their stimulus case may have portrayed the defendant in a particularly sympathetic way.
Thompson et al. also manipulated the judge's curative instructions in an
attempt to discover why jurors might not disregard inadmissible evidence. They

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hypothesized that jurors may be guided primarily by their sense of what is just.
For example, jurors might believe that the use of inadmissible evidence " m a y
compromise a defendant's rights" but "not necessarily lead to the 'wrong' verdict" (p. 454). If so, then curative instructions that appeal to jurors' notions of
justice should be more effective than instructions that do not. Thompson et al.
reported that manipulation of the judge's instructions had no effect; however, they
concluded that this result was "consistent with the assertion by other social
scientists that jurors tend to decide cases according to their own standards of
justice and are not much influenced by what the judge says" (p. 461).
Like Thompson et al., Wolf and Montgomery (1977) manipulated the judge's
curative instructions. Their purpose was to test the hypothesis, based on reactance theory (Brehm, 1966), that jurors perceive the instructions as " a threat to
[their] freedom to consider all of the available evidence" (p. 207); therefore, the
more strongly the judge urges jurors to disregard the evidence, the more likely
they should be to use it in choosing a verdict. The critical evidence was similar to
the evidence in the studies described above, except it was obtained through a
stakeout rather than a wire tap. The evidence favored either the prosecution or the
defense. In addition, the judge either ruled it admissible, ruled it inadmissible, or
ruled it inadmissible and "admonished" the jurors to disregard it by telling them
that the evidence "must play no role in your consideration of the case. You have
no choice but to disregard it" (p. 211). In a control condition, the critical evidence
was not presented. The inadmissible evidence did not significantly affect guilt
judgments unless the judge issued the admonishment. This finding that curative
instructions can "backfire" supports the reactance hypothesis.
In the studies discussed so far the critical evidence was inadmissible because
it was obtained illegally by investigators using a wire tap or stakeout to gather
evidence on an unrelated case. It would be useful to learn how jurors react to
evidence that is inadmissible for other reasons. Cox and Tanford (1989) examined
the effects of three inadmissible evidence items in a civil negligence trial. The
plaintiff in the case had sustained a serious injury while using farm equipment
manufactured by the defendant. In the settlement offer condition, the prosecution
introduced evidence that the defendant had attempted to settle with the plaintiff
out of court. In the remedial measures condition, the prosecution showed that the
defendant began installing safety mechanisms on the equipment immediately after
the plaintiff's accident. In the liability insurance condition, the prosecution introduced evidence that the defendant was completely insured. Cox and Tanford also
manipulated the judge's instructions. After hearing inadmissible evidence, subjects received either no instructions or curative instructions to disregard the testimony. The results were that liability judgments were influenced by inadmissible
evidence only if subjects received no instructions; with curative instructions they
did not use the evidence.
Taken together, these studies indicate that illegally obtained evidence involving wire taps or stakeouts is used by mock jurors, at least to some extent, to make
legal judgments (Carretta & Moreland, 1983; Sue et al., 1973; Thompson et al.,
1981; Wolf & Montgomery, 1977). On the other hand, mock jurors may disregard
other inadmissible evidence items, such as settlement offers, remedial measures,

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and liability insurance, if the judge asks them to do so (Cox & Tanford, 1989). It
appears that subjects react differently to evidence items that are inadmissible for
different legal reasons. Clearly, it is important for researchers to investigate mock
jurors' reactions to many examples of inadmissible evidence.
One purpose of the present research was to examine two examples that have
not been addressed in previous studies. The first is evidence that the defendant
was previously convicted of some crime. Prior conviction evidence is not admissible for the purpose of arguing that the defendant has a bad character and tends
to commit crimes (ER.E. 404b). However, it could be admitted to attack the
defendant's credibility, if (I) the crime involved dishonesty or false statement,
such as perjury (ER.E. 609a) and (2) the defendant has already introduced evidence of his or her own good character (ER.E. 404a). This evidence may be quite
difficult to ignore. When given (admissible) limited-use prior conviction evidence,
Wissler and Saks's (1985) subjects did not use it for the legally intended purpose
of assessing the defendant's credibility, but they did consider it in selecting a
verdict.
A second example of inadmissible evidence is hearsay, loosely defined as
testimony in which a witness relates an out-of-court statement made by some
declarant who does not testify, with the testimony's purpose being to assert that
what the declarant said is true. According to the Federal Rules of Evidence,
Article VIII, hearsay is inadmissible in court unless an exemption or exception
can be applied. Previous research suggests that mock jurors might treat hearsay
and prior conviction evidence differently. Miene, Borgida, and Park (1993) concluded that mock jurors do not weight hearsay as heavily as the same testimony
presented by an eyewitness and that they probably do this on their own rather
than as a result of instructions from the judge. Miene et al. argued that jurors
might discount hearsay because they realize that it is less reliable than eyewitness
testimony, but their study does not rule out the possibility that subjects thought it
was somewhat unfair to use hearsay. Studying additional inadmissible evidence
items such as hearsay and prior conviction evidence will provide a more complete
picture of mock jurors' reactions to inadmissibility.
A second purpose of the present research was to examine further the role of
the judge's instructions. Wolf and Montgomery (1977) reported that a strong admonishment from the judge can backfire, increasing the likelihood that the inadmissible evidence will be used to make a legal judgment. These authors appealed
to reactance theory to explain this finding, arguing that admonished jurors want to
restore their freedom to consider all available evidence. Alternatively, some legal
scholars suggest that the backfire effect may not occur because jurors deliberately
disobey the judge: "Instructions [to disregard inadmissible evidence] may be like
telling someone not to think of elephants. It invites the very thing it purports to
prohibit" (Rothstein, 1991, p. 3 I). Perhaps the real problem with the instructions
is that jurors do not understand why they are being asked to disregard evidence.
If the judge explained the legal basis for the inadmissibility ruling, jurors might
successfully follow the instructions. The present research addresses this hypothesis.
A third purpose was to discover whether the credibility of a witness affects

DISREGARDING INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE

411

jurors' ability to disregard inadmissible testimony from that witness. It is possible


that subjects may find it hard to ignore statements made by very credible witnesses, as compared to witnesses who lack credibility and may not be accurate
anyway.

EXPERIMENT 1

Method
Materials and Design
Mock jurors listened to an audiotape adapted from Pickel (1993). The audiotape enacts a fictional theft trial in which the defendant is accused of stealing
$5000 from his supervisor's office after being fired from his job at a factory. The
first witness, testifying for the prosecution, is the defendant's supervisor, who
provides the background for the case by describing the operations at the factory
and the defendant's job and explaining that he fired the defendant for absenteeism
and poor job performance. The prosecutor's theory is that the defendant stole the
money in order to take revenge after being fired. To advance this argument, she
presents evidence that the defendant dropped a large bundle of cash and a check
made out to his former employer in front of a neighbor a short time after the theft
and that a large amount of cash was found in the defendant's apartment by the
police on the day after the theft. The defendant claims that he is innocent, and
both he and his wife testify that he was at home at the time of the theft. The
defense attorney argues that her client is being treated as a scapegoat because of
his recent dismissal from the company.
The audiotape's running time is about 25 minutes and includes jury instructions at the end of the trial. The instructions were taken from Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal Cases (1985) and Burns Indiana Statutes Annotated (1985).
Care was taken for the stimulus trial to be as "legally realistic" as possible.
In most of the previous research, the admissibility of the critical evidence depends
upon whether it was legally or illegally obtained by the police. As Sue et al. (1973)
point out, in actual cases the judge would almost certainly rule on the admissibility
of such evidence before the trial commenced, so that evidence ruled inadmissible
would never be heard by the jurors. Other potentially inadmissible evidence might
be heard by jurors when a witness unexpectedly mentioned it, but typically opposing counsel would quickly raise an objection before the witness would have
time to elaborate at length, and at that time the judge would make a ruling. In the
present study the trial script was written so that the critical evidence would be
introduced in just this way. In addition, the evidence was carefully designed so
that it could be either admissible or inadmissible, depending on the condition.
Thus, in the admissible conditions, the details of the case were arranged so that
the critical evidence would in fact be legally admissible, whereas in the inadmissible conditions the details of the case varied slightly so that the evidence would
be legally inadmissible.

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The design of Experiment 1 was a 4 (admissibility of the critical evidence) x2


(credibility of the critical witness) factorial. Both independent variables were
manipulated between subjects. The critical evidence was presented by the defendant's co-worker, who testified as a rebuttal witness to contradict the defendant's
assertion that the supervisor disliked him. In all conditions, the co-worker presented the following testimony when asked by the prosecutor to describe the
relationship between the supervisor (Elliot) and the defendant (Matthew):
Witness: I often saw Matthew stop by Mr. Elliot's office during the day. They would talk
and joke around. I know that they went out for a drink after work on several occasions.
They got along well.

At this point (except in the control condition), the witness volunteered the
information that the defendant had a previous conviction on his record. The
witness continued:
Witness: In fact, Elliot let him have some time off work when Matthew had to serve a few
days in jail for a perjury conviction.

The trial script was manipulated so that in different conditions the witness'
statement would be either admissible or inadmissible under the Federal Rules of
Evidence. In the Admissible condition, the witness' testimony was admissible for
the purpose of attacking the defendant's credibility because the defendant, testifying immediately before the critical witness, had opened the door for the prosecution to present evidence about his character by stating, " I ' m a very honest
person. I don't get into trouble, and I don't lie about things." In the two Inadmissible conditions, the defendant did not make this statement, and therefore the
prosecution would not be permitted to introduce evidence of the defendant's prior
conviction.
In the Admissible and Inadmissible conditions, the defense attorney raised an
objection at this point. In the Admissible condition, the judge responded by overruling the objection and instructing the witness to continue. In the Inadmissible
conditions, the judge sustained the objection and either went on to explain the
legal basis for the ruling or did not. The italicized portion of the script below was
included in the Inadmissible With Explanation version and was omitted in the
Inadmissible Without Explanation condition:
Defense Attorney: Objection, Your Honor.
Judge: Sustained. The jury must disregard the witness' last statement. According to the
rules o f evidence, the witness may not testify about crimes that the defendant allegedly
committed because this testimony might improperly suggest to you that the defendant
has a bad character and tends to behave in the same negative way in all situations. The
prosecution may continue.

To summarize the design with respect to the admissibility variable, there were
four conditions: Admissible, Inadmissible Without Explanation, Inadmissible
With Explanation, and a control condition in which the critical evidence was not
presented.
The other independent variable was the credibility of the critical witness. In
the High Credibility condition the witness presented himself as both reluctant to

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413

testify against the defendant (with whom he had been friends) and confident of his
testimony. In the Low Credibility condition the witness admitted having a poor
relationship with the defendant and appeared less confident, using verbal hedges
in the noncritical portion of his testimony (e.g. " I ' m not sure, but I think it may
have been around 4:45 or so").

Participants
Two hundred thirty-six Ball State University psychology students participated in partial fulfillment of a course requirement. They were tested in groups
and were assigned randomly to one of the eight conditions.

Procedure
Upon arriving for the experiment, participants were told that they would
listen to an audiotape of a fictional theft trial and then complete a questionnaire
asking them to make several decisions about the case. They listened to one of the
eight versions of the audiotape, depending on the condition to which they were
assigned.
After listening to the case, including the instructions to the jury, participants
were given a questionnaire which asked them to provide (1) a verdict; (2) their
estimate of the probability of the defendant's guilt; (3) a rating on a 10-point scale
of the extent to which the evidence of a prior conviction caused them to believe
that the defendant was guilty (this rating was a measure of the weight of the critical
evidence; the control group was not asked for this measure); and (4) a rating on a
7-point scale of the credibility of each witness.
After completing the questionnaire, participants were debriefed, thanked,
and dismissed.

Results

Manipulation Check
Before testing the effects of the independent variables, a preliminary analysis
was conducted to verify that the critical witness was rated as more credible in the
high credibility condition than in the low credibility condition. The analysis indicated that the manipulation was effective (high: M = 4.54, low: M = 3.73), t(234)
= 4.49, p < .001.

Verdict and Probability of Guilt


A log-linear analysis was used to discover whether the admissibility of the
critical evidence and the credibility of the critical witness interacted to influence
subjects' verdicts. The analysis showed that there was no significant interaction.
The separate effects of admissibility and credibility were examined using a
chi-square analysis. The results revealed that the percentage of guilty verdicts
varied across admissibility conditions, X2(3, N = 236) = 7.83, p < .05 (see Table
1). This percentage was highest in the admissible condition and lowest in the

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Table 1. Experiment 1: Percent of Guilty Verdicts and Mean Probability of Guilt
Judgments by Admissibility Condition

Admissible
Inadmissible
Without explanation
Inadmissible
With explanation
Control

Percent of
guilty
verdicts

Mean probability
of guilt

64%

.67

64

43%

.55

53

55%
42%

.60
.54

53
66

control and inadmissible without explanation conditions. The credibility of the


critical witness also affected verdicts. More participants chose a guilty verdict
when that witness' credibility was high (58%) rather than low (44%),
N =
236) = 4.33, p < .05.
Like verdicts, estimates of the probability of the defendant's guilt varied by
admissibility condition, as shown in Table 1, F(3,232) = 3.04, p < .05. A Newm a n - K e u l s test revealed that the mean in the admissible condition was significantly higher than the means in both the control condition and the inadmissible
without explanation condition. No other differences between means were significant.
In addition, the probability estimates were affected by the critical w i t n e s s '
credibility, F(1,234) = 4.34, p < .05. Participants in the high credibility condition
(M = .63) gave higher probability of guilt estimates than did participants in the
low credibility condition (M = .55). There was no interaction between admissibility condition and credibility.
Not surprisingly, participants who chose a guilty verdict (M = .81) gave
much higher probability of guilt estimates than did participants who chose a not
guilty verdict (M = .35), F(1,234) = 501.06, p < .001.

Weight Given to Evidence


Judgments of the weight of the critical evidence varied by admissibility condition, F(2,167) = 3.85, p < .05. A N e w m a n - K e u l s analysis showed that significantly more weight was given to the prior conviction evidence in the admissible
condition (M = 7.47) than in the inadmissible without explanation condition (M =
6.38). Mean weight in the inadmissible with explanation condition (M = 7.08) fell
between the other two means and did not differ from them.
It was hypothesized that participants might give more weight to inadmissible
evidence presented by a very credible witness than to a witness who lacked
credibility. However, there was no interaction between admissibility condition
and the critical witness' credibility, and neither was there a main effect of credibility.
Weight judgments did not vary with verdict.

DISREGARDING INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE

415

Credibility of Witnesses
Judgments of the defendant's credibility should have varied by admissibility
condition if participants had used the critical evidence as an indication of his
honesty, but they did not (admissible M = 3.38; inadmissible without explanation
M = 3.89; inadmissible with explanation M = 3.68; control M = 3.89), F(3,232)
= 1 . 6 1 , p = .188.
Discussion

Mock jurors who heard the critical evidence ruled inadmissible and who
received no legal explanation for the ruling were able to follow instructions and
disregard the evidence. As shown in Table 1, these participants performed very
much like the control group in terms of the percentage who voted guilty and their
mean probability of guilt estimates. In addition, these participants reported giving
significantly less weight to the critical evidence than did participants who heard
the evidence ruled admissible. On the other hand, subjects in the inadmissible
with explanation condition were not as successful. Compared to participants who
heard the evidence ruled admissible, participants given the explanation for inadmissibility were somewhat less likely to find the defendant guilty, gave slightly
lower probability of guilt estimates, and weighted the critical evidence somewhat
less, but they clearly did not ignore the evidence. Thus, receiving a legal explanation did not help participants disregard inadmissible evidence. This finding
parallels Wolf and Montgomery's (1977) result that a judge's admonishment to
disregard evidence may backfire. An exploration of the possible reasons for this
effect is deferred until the General Discussion.
It was hypothesized that the critical witness' credibility might affect participants' ability to disregard inadmissible evidence. Contrary to this hypothesis,
there was no interaction between credibility and the admissibility of the critical
evidence for any of the dependent measures.
According to the Federal Rules of Evidence, evidence of a prior conviction (if
admissible) is to be used to attack the defendant's credibility. If participants had
used the evidence in the legally intended way, their rating of the defendant's
credibility would have been highest in the control condition and lowest in the
admissible condition. However, there was no main effect of admissibility on the
defendant's credibility (similar results were reported by Wissler & Saks, 1985).

EXPERIMENT 2
The results of Experiment 1 showed that giving mock jurors a legal explanation for the inadmissibility of prior conviction evidence backfired. It was hypothesized that a legal explanation for hearsay evidence would not backfire. This
hypothesis was based upon the finding of Miene et al. (1993) that mock jurors give
less weight to hearsay than to the same evidence presented by an eyewitness.

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Method
Materials and Design

M o c k j u r o r s listened to an audiotape enacting a trial that was nearly identical


to the one used in E x p e r i m e n t 1. The p r i m a r y change involved the t e s t i m o n y of
the critical witness, whose p u r p o s e in testifying was to a d v a n c e the p r o s e c u t i o n ' s
c a s e b y stating that he saw the defendant loitering in the hallway near the superv i s o r ' s office at the a p p r o x i m a t e time of the theft. To that end, the witness testified
as follows (in all conditions):
Prosecutor: Did you see Matthew Streeter [the defendant] on the afternoon of April 6th?
Witness: Yes. I went to get a drink of water and I saw him hanging around in the hallway
outside Mr. Elliot's [the supervisor's] office. I thought he looked upset or angry or
something, so I asked him what was wrong. He said, "Elliot just fired me." I told him
I was sorry about that.
At this point (except in the control condition), the witness u n e x p e c t e d l y
m e n t i o n e d an incriminating r e m a r k made by the defendant. The trial script was
manipulated so that in different conditions the w i t n e s s ' statement would be either
admissible or inadmissible under the h e a r s a y rule. In the version below, the witn e s s ' t e s t i m o n y is admissible because it involves a s t a t e m e n t allegedly m a d e by
the defendant directly to the witness.
Witness: I don't know why Matthew decided to do this. Maybe he was just too angry to
think straight. But he told me, "Elliot will be sorry he took away my income. I could
walk in and get the cash without being seen, and they could never prove anything."
B e l o w is a version in which the defendant allegedly m a d e the s t a t e m e n t to a
third p a r t y rather than directly to the witness. This t e s t i m o n y would be inadmissible u n d e r the hearsay rule.
Witness: I don't know why Matthew decided to do this. Maybe he was just too angry to
think straight. But later, my co-worker Rick Miller told me that Matthew told him,
"Elliot will be sorry he took away my income. I could walk in and get the cash without
being seen, and they could never prove anything."
T h e defense attorney immediately raised an objection at this point. In the
admissible condition, the judge r e s p o n d e d b y overruling the objection and instructing the witness to continue. In the inadmissible conditions, the judge sustained the objection and either explained the legal basis for the ruling or did not.
T h e italicized part of the script below was included in the inadmissible with
explanation version and was omitted in the inadmissible without explanation condition:
Defense Attorney: Objection, Your Honor.
Judge: Sustained. The jury must disregard the witness' last statement because it is
hearsay. According to the rules of evidence, the witness may not testify about statements
made by others. In this case we would need the witness' co-worker to testify that the
defendant made this statement to him. The prosecution may continue.

DISREGARDING INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE

417

As in Experiment 1, the admissibility variable had four conditions: admissible, inadmissible without explanation, inadmissible with explanation, and a control condition in which the critical evidence was not presented.
The credibility of the critical witness was also manipulated, as in Experiment I.

Participants
Two hundred ninety Ball State University psychology students participated in
partial fulfillment of a course requirement. They were tested in groups and were
assigned randomly to one of the eight conditions.

Procedure
At the beginning of the experiment, participants were told that they would
listen to an audiotape of a fictional theft trial and then evaluate the case. They
listened to one of the eight versions of the audiotape, depending on the condition
to which they were assigned.
After listening to the tape, they were given a questionnaire that was identical
to the one used in Experiment I, except for two changes. First, an attempt was
made to refine participants' estimates of the weight given to the critical evidence.
Care was taken to instruct subjects to separate their belief in the truth of the
witness' statement from the extent to which the statement was used to determine
a verdict. In addition, participants were asked to estimate the weight given to each
evidence item, not just the critical item. Thus, the questionnaire asked them to
rate on a 10-point scale the degree to which they believed they used each evidence
item to determine a verdict.
The second change to the questionnaire involved determining whether participants remembered the judge's ruling with respect to the admissibility of the
critical evidence. They were asked whether either attorney raised an objection
during the trial, and if so, what evidence was objected to and what the judge's
ruling was. These memory items were included to test the possibility that subjects
might fail to disregard evidence because they forgot the judge's instructions. The
new items concerning the weight of the evidence and participants' memory were
appended to the end of the questionnaire.
After completing the questionnaire, the participants were debriefed, thanked,
and dismissed.

Results

Manipulation Check
As in Experiment 1, the critical witness' credibility in the high and low
credibility conditions was compared as a manipulation check. The manipulation
was effective (high: M = 4.31, low: M = 3.76), t(288) = 3.28, p = .001.

Verdict and Probability of Guilt


A log-linear analysis revealed no significant interaction between admissibility
and the credibility of the critical witness. However, verdict was affected by ad-

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missibility; a greater percentage of participants in the admissible condition than in


the control condition chose guilty verdicts, X2(1, N = 137) = 4.50, p < .05 (see
Table 2). In addition, the percentage of guilty verdicts was higher when the critical
witness' credibility was high rather than low,
N = 290) = 6.62, p = .01.
Probability of guilt estimates were affected by admissibility condition,
F(3,286) = 4.66, p < .01. A N e w m a n - K e u l s test revealed that the mean in the
admissible condition was higher than the other three means, which did not differ
significantly from each other (see Table 2). Probability of guilt was also influenced
by the credibility of the critical witness, F(1,288) = 15.19, p < .001. Participants
thought the likelihood that the defendant was guilty was greater if the critical
witr~ess' credibility was high (M = .64) rather than low (M = .50). There was no
interaction between admissibility condition and credibility.

Weight Given to Evidence


Admissibility condition affected the weight given to the critical evidence,
F(2,211) = 6.98, p = .001. A N e w m a n - K e u l s test revealed that participants in
the admissible condition (M = 7.01) reported giving greater weight to the evidence than did those in either the inadmissible without explanation (M = 5.63) or
the inadmissible with explanation condition (M = 4.84). The two inadmissible
means did not differ. The weight of the critical evidence also varied with verdict,
F(1,211) = 13.08, p <. 001. Participants who chose a guilty verdict gave greater
weight to the evidence (M = 6.56) than did those who chose a not guilty verdict
(M = 4.84). There was no main effect of the critical witness' credibility, and there
was no interaction between credibility and admissibility.
The weight given to noncritical evidence items did not vary by admissibility
condition or credibility condition.

Memory for Admissibility Ruling


Participants in all conditions were asked whether either attorney raised a legal
objection during the trial. If they answered affirmatively, they were to describe in
their own words the evidence that prompted the objection and to indicate whether
the judge ruled that this evidence was admissible or inadmissible.
The participants fairly accurately remembered whether an objection had been
Table 2. Experiment 2: Percent of Guilty Verdicts and Mean Probability of Guilt
Judgments by Admissibility Condition

Admissible
Inadmissible
Without explanation
Inadmissible
With explanation
Control

Percent of
guilty

Mean probability

verdicts

of guilt

66%

.69

70

53%

.55

76

49%
48%

.52
.54

77
67

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419

made. Accuracy rates were 86% in the admissible condition, 92% in the inadmissible without explanation condition, 95% in the inadmissible with explanation
condition, and 97% in the control condition (the only condition in which there was
no objection). Accuracy did not vary significantly by admissibility condition, by
credibility condition, or by verdict.
Of the participants who correctly reported that an objection was raised, most
were able to describe the critical testimony that prompted the objection. However, a chi-square analysis revealed that accuracy varied by admissibility condition,
N = 203) = 16.95, p < .005. Participants in the inadmissible with
explanation condition had the highest accuracy rate (97%), followed by those in
the inadmissible without explanation condition (80%), and then participants in the
admissible condition (72%). Accuracy in reporting the critical testimony did not
vary significantly by credibility condition or by verdict.
A final analysis examined the percentage of those participants who had remembered the objection and described the critical testimony who also correctly
recalled the judge's ruling. Again accuracy rates were high; 95% of the participants in the admissible condition, 96% of those in the inadmissible without explanation condition, and 99% of those in the inadmissible with explanation condition correctly reported the judge's ruling. Accuracy did not vary significantly by
admissibility condition, credibility condition, or verdict.

Discussion
In contrast to subjects in Experiment 1, who were given prior conviction
evidence, Experiment 2 participants successfully ignored hearsay evidence if instructed to do so, regardless of whether they received a legal explanation or not.
Participants in both inadmissible conditions gave lower probability of guilt estimates and were less likely to find the defendant guilty compared to those in the
admissible condition, but they did not differ from controls in terms of these
dependent measures. Furthermore, participants in the inadmissible conditions
reported giving significantly less weight to the critical evidence than did those who
heard admissible evidence. Thus, the explanation regarding inadmissible hearsay
evidence did not backfire, although it did not increase participants' ability to
ignore the evidence. Because participants in the inadmissible without explanation
condition performed very much like controls in terms of verdict and probability of
guilt, it appears that participants already suspected that hearsay evidence should
not be used and quite easily disregarded it when so instructed. The hypothesis that
participants held different a priori views about prior conviction and hearsay evidence was tested in Experiment 3.
Responses to the memory items suggest that the participants have no difficulty recalling whether an objection was raised during the trial or how the judge
ruled. However, participants who heard inadmissible evidence and the legal explanation recalled the critical evidence better than those in other conditions.
Perhaps the explanation served to make the critical evidence more salient to these
subjects, which would account for their superior recall performance compared to
the inadmissible without explanation participants. The participants in the admis-

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sible condition may have performed the worst not because they could not recall
the critical evidence but because they did not remember which evidence item
prompted an objection. When these participants heard the evidence ruled admissible during the trial, they may have failed to "tag" it as having been objected to
and ruled admissible because all evidence is considered admissible by default
anyway. This interpretation seems logical, although the present data do not allow
a definitive conclusion.
It is somewhat puzzling that participants in the two inadmissible conditions
did not report assigning zero weight to the critical evidence even though they did
not differ from controls in terms of verdicts and probability of guilt estimates.
(Note that the same result can be seen in the weight estimates reported by participants in the inadmissible without explanation condition in Experiment 1.) A
possible interpretation of this result is that participants actually gave very little
weight to the critical evidence when deciding on a verdict but did not accurately
report assigning near zero weight when subsequently asked for their weight estimates. Participants could have done this for a variety of reasons. One possible
reason is that the zero point on the rating scale may have seemed like a choice that
was too "obvious."
Alternatively, participants who heard inadmissible evidence may have given
that evidence considerable weight but simultaneously decreased the weight assigned to other evidence items favoring the prosecution, which would explain the
fewer number of guilty verdicts and lower probability of guilt estimates in the
inadmissible conditions compared to the admissible condition. This second explanation is not supported by the data in Experiment 2. Participants were asked to
estimate the weight given to noncritical evidence items as well as the critical
evidence, and it turned out that the weight given to the noncritical items did not
vary by admissibility condition. Therefore, the better explanation is that the participants actually gave zero or near zero weight to the evidence but for whatever
reason failed to report accurately the low weight value.

EXPERIMENT 3
The effects of a legal explanation for the inadmissibility of prior conviction
evidence were not the same as for hearsay evidence. The explanation backfired
when the critical evidence concerned a prior conviction but had little effect when
the evidence concerned hearsay. Experiment 3 was designed to explore the possibility that this finding was obtained because mock jurors have different preconceptions about the fairness of using different evidence items to make legal decisions. Specifically, it was predicted that subjects would consider the use of hearsay evidence to be less fair than the use of prior conviction evidence. This
prediction was based not only upon the results of Experiments 1 and 2 but also
upon the findings that prior conviction evidence may affect verdicts even when it
is not intended to be used for that purpose (Wissler & Saks, 1985) and that people
assign less weight to hearsay than to eyewitness testimony (Miene et al., 1993).

DISREGARDING INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE

421

Method
Participants
One hundred twenty-one Ball State University psychology students volunteered to participate.

Materials and Procedure


Participants completed a questionnaire asking them to imagine that a defendant was about to go on trial for an unspecified crime. Each questionnaire described one of six evidence items favoring the prosecution. Subjects rated on a
9-point scale their opinion of whether it would be fair for the jury to be allowed to
use that item in determining a verdict. The six items were (1) evidence that the
defendant had previously been convicted of perjury; (2) a witness' testimony that
she heard someone else say something that incriminated the defendant (hearsay);
(3) incriminating evidence obtained through the use of a wire tap by a detective
working on an unrelated case; (4) evidence that the defendant (who manufactured
equipment that seriously injured someone) was covered by liability insurance; (5)
evidence that the defendant attempted to settle out of court with the defendant; (6)
evidence that the defendant began placing safety mechanisms on equipment manufactured by his company immediately after the victim's accident (remedial measures).
The third item above is illegally obtained evidence, which has often been used
in studies of inadmissible evidence (Carretta & Moreland, 1983; Sue et al., 1973;
Thompson et al., 1981), and the last three items are the same as those used by Cox
and Tanford (1989). The questionnaire's instructions emphasized that the participants were not being tested on their knowledge of legal rules but rather were
simply being asked their opinion of what is fair.

Results
An analysis of variance was used to compare subjects' ratings of the six
evidence items. The ratings varied significantly, F(5,115) = 8.45, p < .001 (see
Figure 1). A Newman-Keuls analysis revealed that hearsay evidence (M = 3.50)
was given a significantly lower fairness rating than all other items. In addition,
prior conviction evidence (M = 5.00) did not differ from liability insurance (M =
6.15) but was considered significantly less fair than a settlement offer (M = 6.86),
wire tap evidence (M = 6.90), and remedial measures (M = 7.40). The four
evidence items that were given the highest ratings (remedial measures, wire tap,
settlement offer, liability insurance) did not differ from one another.

Discussion
The results supported the prediction that hearsay evidence would receive a
lower fairness rating than would prior conviction evidence. This difference in
participants' preconceptions of the fairness of using these two evidence items
could explain why the legal explanation affected their judgments differently de-

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pending upon the evidence item involved. In the hearsay experiment, the legal
explanation may have had little effect because participants already believed that
it was unfair to use this evidence. In the prior conviction experiment, however,
participants may have felt more or less undecided. The explanation not only failed
to convince them that they should not use the evidence, but it also backfired. The
details of the means by which the legal explanation may have influenced participants' judgments is described more fully in the General Discussion.
It appears that individuals believe that remedial measures, settlement offers,
liability insurance, and illegally obtained wire tap evidence may be fairly considered in determining guilt. The wire tap finding is not surprising; previous studies
(e.g., Carretta & Moreland, 1983; Sue et al., 1973; Thompson et al., 1981) have
shown that people do not easily disregard this evidence. However, the results
regarding the other three items seem odd, because Cox and Tanford (1989) reported that subjects successfully ignored them if ordered to do so. It is possible
that Cox and Tanford's results using these three items differed from other researchers' results using other evidence items because of differences in (1) the
judge's instructions to disregard the evidence; (2) the strength or probative value
of the evidence (see Sue et al.); (3) the nature or seriousness of the crime that the
defendant allegedly committed; or (4) the legal cases used as stimuli. Future
research may be able to determine how jurors' preconceptions of fairness influence their ability to follow instructions to disregard evidence.

G E N E R A L DISCUSSION
The results of Experiments I and 2 revealed that participants successfully
disregarded inadmissible hearsay evidence when instructed to do so and that a
legal explanation had little effect; however, participants disregarded inadmissible
prior conviction evidence only when the judge's ruling did not include a legal
explanation. The responses to the memory items in Experiment 2 suggest that the
legal explanation might serve to make the critical evidence more salient to participants, with the result that they scrutinize it more carefully than they would
have if no explanation had been given (and in which case they would have accepted the instructions and successfully disregarded the evidence). After careful
consideration, if participants come to the conclusion, based on their sense of what
is just, that it would be unfair to use the evidence to determine guilt, then they will
disregard the evidence. Alternatively, if they decide that it is not necessarily unfair
to consider the evidence, then they probably will be unwilling to ignore it completely, thus producing the backfire effect.
The results of Experiment 3 support the hypothesis that participants' opinions about the fairness of using hearsay and prior conviction evidence interacted
with the legal explanation in this way. The Experiment 3 results also suggest that
a legal explanation for the inadmissibility of evidence of remedial measures, which
had a significantly higher fairness rating than prior conviction evidence, should
backfire even more than the explanation concerning the prior conviction. This

DISREGARDING INADMISSIBLE EVIDENCE

423

prediction seems to conflict with Cox and Tanford's (1989) findings. However,
they apparently did not include conditions in which the judge gave a legal explanation.
Wolf and Montgomery (1977) reported that an admonishment from the judge
can backfire and pointed to reactance theory to explain their result. This explanation alone inadequately accounts for the present findings because the legal
explanation did not have the same effect with hearsay evidence as it did with the
prior conviction. If participants wished to restore their freedom to consider all
presented evidence, they should have responded similarly to the two items, especially since the strength of the hearsay and prior conviction evidence was
roughly equivalent, as measured by the percentage of guilty verdicts and probability of guilt estimates in Experiments 1 and 2. However, it is possible that
perceived fairness moderates reactance so that jurors display reactance only if
they believe it is fair and just to use the presented evidence to determine guilt.
Future research is needed to clarify the role of perceived fairness and to test
between the salience and reactance explanations.
In summary, the main results of the present study were: (1) a legal explanation did not help mock jurors disregard inadmissible evidence; (2) in some circumstances a legal explanation may backfire, possibly due to increased salience of
the critical evidence interacting with jurors' preconceptions of the fairness of
using the evidence to determine guilt (although the reactance explanation cannot
be ruled out); and (3) the critical witness' credibility did not affect subjects' ability
to disregard inadmissible evidence presented by that witness.
The stimuli in this study were designed to be as legally realistic as possible.
Furthermore, the trial transcript was written so as to avoid being extremely simplistic; in addition to the critical evidence, several other evidence items are presented by five different witnesses. However, actual trials are of course lengthier
and usually more complex. The present study is also limited because all subjects
were college students and because the trial was presented by audiotape rather
than videotape. Therefore, it is possible that the manipulated variables might have
different effects in a real trial. For example, real jurors might follow the judge's
instructions more conscientiously because they know that their verdict will have
real consequences for the defendant. On the other hand, real jurors might be even
more likely to override any instructions that conflict with their sense of fairness
for the same reason. Future research is needed to address this issue.
Another limitation of the present study is that in Experiments 1 and 2 the
critical evidence was presented by a witness for the prosecution. The study should
be repeated using a defense witness to present the evidence.

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